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New Hattiesburg mayor a state contender?

By Staff
Aug. 1, 2001
While the Mississippi Democratic Party remains at best unsettled and disorganized on the short term, it appears that the party still is producing quality candidates for the future.
Witness the emergence of a new political force in Hattiesburg with solid ties to those among the pioneers of bringing true diversity to Mississippi politics over the last half-century. At first blush, it's rather hard not to like new Hattiesburg Mayor Johnny Dupree. Possessed of a ready smile, a firm handshake and an enthusiasm for the job he won from veteran Hub City chief executive Ed Morgan in the June 5 municipal election, his presence is at once formidable and beckoning.
Dupree defeated Morgan by some 700 votes in a race in which just over 11,000 votes were cast. That outcome came in a town with a slight white majority. Clearly, the first African American mayor of Hattiesburg attained that post with solid support among the city's white voters.
Miss Evelyn' led the way
I met Mayor Dupree on the porch of my Neshoba County Fair cabin last week when he joined former Lt. Gov. Evelyn Gandy the grande dame of Mississippi politics in what has become a delightful annual visit by the veteran public servant and her sister with the Salter and Denley families after the fair's "Hattiesburg Day" festivities conclude.
For Dupree, it was evident that he both enjoyed taking part in the fair festivities and getting a walking tour of the fairgrounds from a tall, graceful lady whose face and name and reputation for absolute integrity is familiar to generations of Mississippians. Her introduction was simple and gracious: "I would like for you to meet my friend Johnny Dupree. He's our new mayor."
With that, Miss Evelyn left Dupree and his wife on their own in a cabin full of strangers strangers Dupree was quickly and methodically converting into new friends.
A statewide candidate?
His sincerity and energy are contagious. Mrs. Dupree worked the crowds at the Neshoba Fair as if she was a veteran. The couple made a great team. On a broader scale, Dupree seems to fit a necessary niche in Mississippi politics.
Now that the pioneer black statewide politicians have aged and faded from the political scene, who will step forward and break that last color barrier in state politics i.e., who will be the first person of color elected to statewide office? Many have tried, all have failed.
From Charles Evers and Henry Kirksey to Troy Brown and Willie Richardson, black Democrats have faced a difficult road in making a statewide race. While the Democratic Party has paid lip service to supporting statewide black candidates, the money and organizational support needed to win has obviously been missing.
Only Roger Crowder's two failed runs for Commissioner of Agriculture and Commerce approached self-sufficiency. His appeal crossed party lines, but he still could not find the formula to win.
Dupree seems more than capable of filling that void. In one of the state's largest cities, he was able to harness the support of a bi-racial coalition whose agenda seemed to focus on education and economic development.
It's simple, really. Dupree's win in Hattiesburg over Morgan a strong, capable mayor signals the recipe for revitalizing Mississippi's struggling Democratic Party in elections to come.
Black Democrats have supported white Democrats for decades. At some point, white Democrats have to be willing to reciprocate not just in municipal or district elections, but across this state. If not, the party will flounder.
Sid Salter is Perspective Editor/Columnist at The Clarion-Ledger in Jackson and a syndicated Mississippi political columnist. Call him at (601) 961-7084, write P.O. Box 40, Jackson, MS 39206, or e-mail ssalter@jackson.gannett.com.

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